By Janis Mork
November 30, 2013 (Alpine)- At the Alpine Union School District Board meeting on November 21st, many teachers and the community expressed their frustrations at the school board over fiscal issues, many asking why the Superintendent gets a raise when the district is facing a financial crisis and teachers are being asked to take more furloughs and cuts.
Everyone who spoke voiced anger at the school Board or criticized the Superintendent. In all, there were 22 speakers. Superintendent Tom Pellegrino responded, “I believe I’m the only person who makes less money,” noting that cuts have negated his raise, as he explained in detail in a later interview with ECM.” I do not have an overall raise.”
Eric Wray, who led the meeting, allowed 11 to speak initially, then the Board moved on to address the other agenda items, and later the remaining speakers had an opportunity to voice their opinions.
Gayle Malone, who had addressed the employee association reports on the Alpine Teachers Association (ATA) and California School Employees Association (CSEA) Chapter 607, defended the teachers.
“Alpine teachers were the very first in the County to accept voluntary pay cuts to help mitigate the effects of the recent economic downturn,” Malone said. “The district seems intent on diverting attention away from its own culpability by scape goating teachers as greedy and irresponsible, crippling them financially, and by extension, badly damaging Alpine’s ability to provide a quality education for its students.. Alpine teachers care too much about the students, the community, and their own professions.”
She then offered her recommendations. “First, carefully read the fact finders’ report. Second, get complete answers. Third, find out what the ATA was willing to do to settle this mess. Lastly, talk to the community.. Listen to the community and take charge. Lead this district down the path to recovery. Lead this district to a fair and reasonable solution.”
Aleta Greer, a teacher in the district, was puzzled as to why there was a law enforcement officer at the meeting.. She argued that the board should know the teachers well enough to know that the teachers are professionals and of “high quality.” She specifically addressed board members Joe Perricone and Wray, whose children she has had in her class.
Another teacher, Jennifer Broderick, was outraged at the board’s careless spending. “ She stated, “It’s true we face tough economic times.. We got here [by] poor spending decisions.. There’s not been a clear vision for Alpine schools.” She explained how first, teachers were asked to revision schools “with the promise of grand re-openings, which did not happen.” Then the board sought to upgrade the school with technology, she recalled. ““Teachers were laid off.. Money was spent on shiny new Itouches. Money was also spent on the district website that was supposed to promote our schools and bring us into the 21st century. . I personally spent countless unpaid hours creating a video, promoting my schools (including MLVA).” However, there is nothing on the website about the promotions, Broderick said, adding, “The above plans were poorly executed and clearly did not bring new enrollment to our district.. However, the Superintendent was given a raise by the board for a job well done.. We are a family and families are supposed to work together for what’s best for all..”
Referring to an earlier presentation on the fiscal oversight report from the San Diego County Office of Education, she said the presentation’s speaker omitted information on historical cuts in benefits taken by the teachers “The Superintendent abruptly picked up his ball and went home. I was devastated.. I implore the board to force the superintendent back to the bargaining table..The students, parents and teachers of Alpine deserve better.”
Lisa Hein, a parent of two kids who attend Alpine schools, was disappointed at the board. “I have two children with special needs.. my kids wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the teachers that they’ve had.. Shame on you guys for what you’re trying to do.”
ECM spoke with the Superintendent recently to get his comments and the action he and the board plan to take now.
“The overall raise I had was 2 ½ percent a few years ago.This year, since July 1 2013, everyone has a 7.73 percent reduction (which negates his 2 ½ percent increase).” Thus he explained, “I’m making less than when I started [in 2010]. I took a 4.73 percent reduction for multiple years.”
Asked about the meeting overall, he replied, “It’s not a surprise to me.. When you have serious financial difficulties.. and the burden has to fall on all of us, they’re difficult but doable.” He added, “ Of course people are going to be angry. If we had more money, I would be the first to give the employees more salary etc.. The board started addressing this five years ago. The board made it clear we need to stop spending more than we save, and I’m trying to do that. This year, we’ll have a $1.35 million deficit if we don’t do anything.”
He added that a fact finding report due this week will be made public by the Superintendent with an open letter to the public.
As far as the action to take, he concluded, “We’ll try to bargain with the ATA for agreement. We’ll meet with the board soon and look at the fact finders’ report and see if we’ll go ahead with it..”
To learn more about fiscal facts of Alpine, with letters from both the teachers' and district's points of view, visit: http://www.alpinecommunitynetwork.com/2013/11/alpine-teachers-response-to-superintendent-pellegrinos-ausd-fiscal-facts-november-20-2013/.
View the Superintendent's contract here.